A MOTHER has launched a campaign to save two children’s centres from closure.
The Rainbow centres based at the d:two centre in Henley and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common are among 44 across Oxfordshire that could be shut because of budget cuts proposed by the county council. Among the others under threat are those in Watlington, Goring and Woodcote.
The centres help families by providing support, advice and activities for children from birth to age five.
Emma Taylor, 38, of Western Avenue, Henley, has been taking her four-year-old daughter Lilia to the Henley centre since it opened in 2010 and is a volunteer there.
She said: “It’s absolutely crazy that they are proposing to close them. The thing about children’s centres is they are a focal point for all the services for families and young children.
“They are extremely valuable, especially for vulnerable people who don’t go out and seek help. People won’t just pick up the phone and say ‘I need help’ because it’s a hard thing to do.
“The families get to know the staff and trust them and open up to them in a way they might not be able to elsewhere. Mrs Taylor said there was a perception that everyone in Henley was wealthy but in fact there were areas of deprivation.
“What’s great about the children’s centre is you get people going there who don’t have much money and others who are well-off so people are mixing. It integrates the community in a way that nowhere else does.”
The former journalist, who is married to Andy, 46, a Virgin Media manager, has set up a Facebook group and is supporting a petition to keep the centres open.
Both Rainbow centres used to be run by Nomad, a youth and community project which is based at the d-two centre, until it lost the council contract in March.
They are now run by Action for Children, a national charity, on a contract that ends in 2015.
Sue Prior, Nomad project leader, said: “If the centres do close or there isn’t enough funding for the service to continue in Henley that would be very, very sad. A lot of families and children would be worse off.”
Mrs Prior said families visited the centre for advice on issues such as health and pregnancy.
“All the activities are geared to encourage good early years child development and to prepare children academically and socially for school,” she said.
“It’s open to all families but there are certain families who find life quite difficult and there’s additional support there for them.”
She said that Nomad would continue to support families, adding: “Bearing in mind that the children’s centre is for ages zero to five we’re working with families beyond that and are incredibly busy.”
Roger Cole, pastor at Henley Baptist Church, which owns the d:two centre, said if the children’s centre closed families would have to travel miles out of the area to find an alternative but d:two would continue support families.
“Before children’s centres came along we were doing activities for mums and children under five,” he said. “I guess that’s what it’s going to go back to if they don’t keep it open.”
Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “The children’s centre provides a wonderful service to mothers and youngsters and I would be absolutely shocked if it closed. I really hope this is seriously reconsidered.”
The county council’s budget proposals will be published in December and the cabinet will make its recommendations to the full council for a final decision in February.
A council spokesman said: “We are likely to be proposing the closure of a number of children’s centres as part of wider savings plans linked to this year’s budget-setting process.
“No decisions have been taken about exactly how many would close or which.
“All children’s centres have remained open during cuts from 2010 to 2013 but this is not likely to continue to be sustainable.
“There are new financial realities facing Oxfordshire and local government and in those circumstances we want to ensure services are targeted at those in greatest need.
“We are therefore looking at a real change of focus and emphasis for children’s centres looking to the future. We will not be able to afford the widespread coverage that exists at present with 44 children’s centres and a mobile one.
“We must concentrate closely on where these services would best be focused – for the most vulnerable.”
Laurie Long, operational director for Action for Children, said: “We will be working closely with Oxfordshire County Council to continue delivering the best possible services to families across the county.
“Our absolute priority is the wellbeing of the children and young people we work with.”
The Facebook group is called SOCC — Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres. To sign the petition, visit www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/saveourchildrenscntr